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Top Shelf: Outdoor games put NHL fandom on center stage

By Dan Di Sciullo, NHL Editor

Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - While riding the "D Train" from Manhattan to the Bronx on Sunday afternoon, it was easy to see why the NHL has fallen in love with the outdoor game.

The subway cars were packed to the gills with folks donning the blue and red sweaters of the New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils, respectively. Hundreds more stood on the platform, ready to squeeze their way onto the next train.

There was even a guy wearing a New York Islanders jersey. He was either confused about the date of the Rangers-Isles battle at Yankee Stadium, or was so excited ahead of Wednesday's game and couldn't wait to get a head-start on the festivities.

There is a feeling of excitement that borders on euphoria at these outdoor games, and once you see it in action, it's obvious why the NHL keeps trying to find new places to stage hockey games out in the open air. It doesn't matter if the weather is awful or the game seems a million miles away from your seat in the bleachers, the people can't seem to get enough when hockey is played among the elements.

Sunday's game between the Rangers and Devils was played before a sellout crowd at Yankee Stadium, and on Tuesday it was announced that Wednesday's tilt between the Islanders and Blueshirts also was sold out. Of course, the Winter Classic battle between the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs at Michigan Stadium was a sellout, as was Saturday's warm-weather Stadium Series clash between Anaheim and Los Angeles at Dodger Stadium.

The league's next outdoor game -- a March 1 tilt between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Blackhawks at Chicago's Soldier Field -- was sold out in less than 24 hours when tickets became available on Dec. 11.

Of the six scheduled outdoor games this season, the only one that isn't sold out yet is the Heritage Classic, and we still have over a month before that game on March 2 between the Vancouver Canucks and Ottawa Senators is played at BC Place. Even if the Vancouver game doesn't sell out, it's pretty clear that generating interest for these events is not at all difficult.

The cynics out there (myself included) have moaned about the increase in outdoor games over recent years because it seems like the NHL is running a great idea into the ground. Judging from the passion and joy emanating from the Bronx on Sunday, it's obvious the fans don't feel the same way as those of us lucky enough to cover the sport.

The scene at Yankee Stadium on Sunday was very similar to the one I witnessed at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia on Jan. 2, 2012, when the Rangers edged the Flyers in the Winter Classic. The game, and whatever outcome it holds for your team, takes a back seat to everything else.

So, Devils fans clearly weren't thrilled about getting pasted 7-3 by the Rangers, but the experience of being part of something special trumps all. It's not so much a party atmosphere as it is a total celebration of hockey fandom displayed in all its crazy glory.

And if you're lucky enough to be able to afford the ticket to witness the NHL outdoor extravaganza, chances are you're not going to complain about the sight lines. Or if you went to the game in L.A., you won't gripe about the brutal ice conditions that led to an ugly brand of hockey. You'll focus on the positives instead. After all, it's a unique experience and who knows when there will be another chance to see it roll into your town.

The NHL has hinted that they aren't planning to make every season awash in outdoor games like this 2013-14 campaign. They must realize it is possible to have too much of a good thing. It's no surprise this year's slate of six outdoor games comes on the heels of a lockout-shortened campaign. It was a shortcut for the league to get back in the good graces of its die-hard fan base, and it seems to be working.

The fact that these events are huge money-makers for both the league and the teams involved means the outdoor game isn't going anywhere. The only thing that can stop it is if fans lose interest and no longer show up to see the spectacle. Judging by the sea of jersey-clad people buzzing around the Bronx this week, it seems interest in outdoor hockey has yet to peak.

I've learned to stop worrying about outdoor overkill and to simply enjoy these events for what they are, and not what I think they should or could be.

After all, if people are willing to pay good money to sit in the freezing cold and go nuts about a game they can barely see, it speaks volumes about how well the NHL is doing right now in terms of marketing and selling its sport to the public. Considering that wasn't always such an easy task, it's hard to be critical of their eagerness to keep a good thing going.

01/28 16:06:12 ET

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Schedule

Wednesday, April 16Full Scoreboard
Montreal 4/16 7:00 PM ET
Tampa Bay CNBC, CBC, RDS, SunSports
Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, Game One.
Columbus 4/16 7:30 PM ET
Pittsburgh NBCSN, CBC, FS-OH, ROOT
Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, Game One.
Dallas 4/16 10:00 PM ET
Anaheim NBCSN, TSN
Western Conference Quarterfinals, Game One.
Full Scoreboard

Standings

2013 - 2014 NHL Eastern Conference Standings
 
Atlantic Division W L OTL Pts GF GA Home Away Div
p-Boston 54 19 9 117 261 177 31-7-3 23-12-6 18-9-3
x-Tampa Bay 46 27 9 101 240 215 25-10-6 21-17-3 19-8-3
x-Montreal 46 28 8 100 215 204 23-13-5 23-15-3 18-8-4
x-Detroit 39 28 15 93 222 230 18-13-10 21-15-5 17-8-5
Ottawa 37 31 14 88 236 265 18-17-6 19-14-8 14-9-7
Toronto 38 36 8 84 231 256 24-16-1 14-20-7 14-13-3
Florida 29 45 8 66 196 268 16-20-5 13-25-3 13-16-1
Buffalo 21 51 10 52 157 248 13-21-7 8-30-3 7-18-5
 
Metropolitan Division W L OTL Pts GF GA Home Away Div
y-Pittsburgh 51 24 7 109 249 207 28-9-4 23-15-3 20-8-2
x-NY Rangers 45 31 6 96 218 193 20-17-4 25-14-2 16-11-3
x-Philadelphia 42 30 10 94 236 235 24-14-3 18-16-7 15-11-4
x-Columbus 43 32 7 93 231 216 22-15-4 21-17-3 16-13-1
Washington 38 30 14 90 235 240 21-13-7 17-17-7 12-15-3
New Jersey 35 29 18 88 197 208 21-11-9 14-18-9 16-9-5
Carolina 36 35 11 83 207 230 18-17-6 18-18-5 15-13-2
NY Islanders 34 37 11 79 225 267 13-19-9 21-18-2 10-16-4
 
x= clinched playoff berth
y= clinched division title
z= clinched overall points title
2013 - 2014 NHL Western Conference Standings
 
Central Division W L OTL Pts GF GA Home Away Div
y-Colorado 52 22 8 112 250 220 26-11-4 26-11-4 19-6-3
x-St. Louis 52 23 7 111 248 191 28-9-4 24-14-3 21-6-2
x-Chicago 46 21 15 107 267 220 27-7-7 19-14-8 13-13-3
x-Minnesota 43 27 12 98 207 206 26-10-5 17-17-7 14-12-3
x-Dallas 40 31 11 91 235 228 23-11-7 17-20-4 13-11-5
Nashville 38 32 12 88 216 242 19-17-5 19-15-7 12-13-4
Winnipeg 37 35 10 84 227 237 18-17-6 19-18-4 9-15-5
 
Pacific Division W L OTL Pts GF GA Home Away Div
z-Anaheim 54 20 8 116 266 209 29-8-4 25-12-4 22-4-3
x-San Jose 51 22 9 111 249 200 29-7-5 22-15-4 18-7-3
x-Los Angeles 46 28 8 100 206 174 23-14-4 23-14-4 16-10-3
Phoenix 37 30 15 89 216 231 22-14-5 15-16-10 14-9-6
Vancouver 36 35 11 83 196 223 20-15-6 16-20-5 12-13-4
Calgary 35 40 7 77 209 241 19-19-3 16-21-4 11-15-3
Edmonton 29 44 9 67 203 270 16-22-3 13-22-6 8-17-4
 
x= clinched playoff berth
y= clinched division title
z= clinched overall points title
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    Tonight at 7:05 on 620am

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    Sunday at 7:05 pm on 99.9 The Fan

Scoreboard
Local
7:00pm Tonight
CHA
CHI
7:05pm Tonight
DUR
NOR
 
Final
CIN 4
PIT 0
Final
BAL 3
TAM 0
Final
NYY 3
CHC 0
 
9th
MIL 5
STL 1
 
2nd
ARI 0
NYM 0
 
7:05pm Tonight
PHI
ATL
7:05pm Tonight
NYY
CHC
7:08pm Tonight
DET
CLE
7:10pm Tonight
MIA
WAS
8:05pm Tonight
TEX
SEA
8:10pm Tonight
CWS
BOS
8:10pm Tonight
HOU
KAN
8:10pm Tonight
MIN 0
TOR 0
10:05pm Tonight
ANA
OAK
10:10pm Tonight
SDP
COL
10:15pm Tonight
SFG
LOS
7:00pm Tonight
CHA
CHI
7:00pm Tonight
ORL
IND
8:00pm Tonight
MIL
ATL
8:00pm Tonight
CLE
BRK
8:00pm Tonight
MEM
DAL
8:00pm Tonight
OKC
DET
8:00pm Tonight
NOP
HOU
8:00pm Tonight
SAN
LAL
8:00pm Tonight
MIA
PHI
8:00pm Tonight
NYK
TOR
8:00pm Tonight
MIN
UTA
8:00pm Tonight
BOS
WAS
10:30pm Tonight
DEN
GSW
10:30pm Tonight
POR
LAC
10:30pm Tonight
SAC
PHO
7:00pm Tonight
TAM
MON
7:30pm Tonight
PIT
CLB
10:00pm Tonight
ANA
DAL
7:05pm Tonight
DUR
NOR